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What is behind Takata’s defective airbags?

Now we know that Takata Corp. produced deadly, defective airbags that were put into millions of the most popular automobiles in the United States. What we do not know — at least not yet — is what the airbags’ defect exactly was.

The airbags could burst with too much force, causing sharp pieces of metal from the dashboard to fly into the vehicle’s cabin. Instead of protecting the driver and passengers in the event of a crash, the defective airbags have caused at least eight deaths and more than 100 injuries. Around 32 million vehicles have been recalled in the U.S. so far.

Since the problem first came to light, Takata and outside researchers have been trying to figure out what is causing the explosions. It has been suspected that Takata’s use of ammonium nitrate in their airbag’s propellant pellets is a factor. When exposed to moisture, pellets with that chemical can cluster and burn too quickly, according to The Wall Street Journal.

This in turn causes gas to build up with too much force and blows up the canister. The resulting explosion is stronger than necessary to expand the airbag, and causes shrapnel to tear off the dashboard.

This begs the question, how is moisture reaching the ammonium nitrate? Nobody is sure. One possible cause is a washing fluid that could have loosened airtight seals on the passenger side. As for driver’s side incidents, an O-ring seal may have become damaged somehow. But there could be more than one cause, and the “root cause” of these deadly accidents may never be known, according to U.S. regulators.

It is a sad irony that a device that was supposed to protect people caught in a car accident actually caused harm. Victims of this or other defective products may wish to speak to an attorney.